Explain how Bentham’s Act Utilitarianism can be used in making moral decisions BY AltceReid20 Jeremy Bentham was a philosopher, economist, atheist and social reformer. Being a social reformer means that Bentham worked to make a gradual change to society. Being an economist meant that he had knowledge in the social science and discipline of economics. Bentham was a philosopher because he studied ways of thinking about the world. This all had an impact on the way his ideas were influenced. He developed the theory known as Act Utilitarianism.
His version of Utilitarianism is referred to as Act’ Utilitarianism because it states that the principle of utility should be applied to every act performed in each unique situation. Any act is Justifiable if it produces ‘the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number’. By the principle of utility Bentham meant the ‘usefulness’ of a situation. The principle states that we should aim to achieve ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’. Act Utilitarianism depends on each action or each individual dilemma being calculated.
According to Act Utilitarianism it is the value of the consequences of the particular act that counts. In 1789 he wrote the book ‘An Introduction to the principle of morals and legislation’ He believed our main aim in life was to achieve ‘happiness’ and to avoid ‘pain’, he wanted to introduce this to society to maximise the amount of happiness produced in certain situations. His theory was made to drive a human being; pain v pleasure. As people are motivated by pleasure and pain is considered evil. As stated in his book: ‘Nature has placed mankind under the governance of to sovereign masters, pain and pleasure’.
Jeremy Bentham’s theory is considered as relativistic; this means that here are no universal norms or rules and that each situation has to be looked at independently because each situation is different. It is also thought of as a teleological theory. This means that it is concerned with the end purpose or goal of an action in this case it should always be happiness. Bentham’s theory was also considered to be consequentialist; this means that moral decisions should be based on the outcome or consequences of an action. Bentham felt that society needed a form of structure for making moral decisions influencing him to introduce Act
Utilitarianism to help treat each moral decision as unique. He was very concerned with the social conditions of his day, becoming particularly involved with both hospitals and prisons. He also believed in women’s vote and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. He developed the principle of utility in his theory which states that an action is right if it produces the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’. He had strong beliefs of maximising the quantity of happiness; he was not concerned about prioritising which form of happiness were superior to others. Bentham wrote in the
Rationale of Reward: ‘Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is equal of value with the arts of sciences of music and poetry’. Bentham’s position was that all pleasures are of equal value. From this he devised the hedonic calculus as a means of measuring happiness. Hedone meaning pleasure. There are 7 parts of the hedonic calculus being intensity, duration, certainty, remoteness, richness and purity which all link to measuring the amount of happiness that a certain situation will produce. An example be applied by using the hedonic calculus to help decide whether it is morally right.
A scenario, of a 16 year old girl called Katy wants an abortion because she doesn’t want to have a baby. However, her parents are Christians and do not agree with her having an abortion. Abortion is thought of as an ethical issue because people argue whether it is right or wrong. As Bentham’s theory is concequentialist all Judgements made should be based on the outcome. Using the hedonic calculus can measure/estimate the amount of happiness that will be produced. To decide upon the action taken on abortion the intensity of happiness will be produced.
In this scenario, the strength of the happiness of the girl, the parents and society will be taken into to help provide the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. The duration of the happiness will also be taken into account, to measure how long the happiness will last for. In this case, how long will the happiness of the girl last if she has an abortion? The certainty of the situation will be measured to determine whether happiness is guaranteed to be produced. Will having an abortion actually produce happiness for Katy and her parents?
The extent of the happiness will be evaluated to decide how many people it will effect. In this example, will it affect her parents and society more than it’ll effect her if she has an abortion? The remoteness of abortion will be checked to determine how soon the happiness will occur. It will be debated whether having an abortion will immediately make the girl happy straight away and/ or in the future. This links to the richness of a situation evaluating how much happiness it may produce in the future. In this case, will abortion still provide the girl ith happiness in the future? r will it affect her family and society more so? Again, this links with the purity of the situation which is the decision of whether it will provide unhappiness in the future. Will abortion cause unhappiness for the girl, her family and society. As you can see the hedonic calculus works towards bringing the greatest happiness to the greatest amount of people measuring the quality of happiness not the quantity. In this example, the hedonic calculus would help to decide whether abortion is morally right helping to make moral decisions.
The edonic calculus helps you to weigh out what is morally right in a situation giving an objective view reducing opinions and biased options. It takes multiple choices into account excluding religion. In this case, the hedonic calculus would decide that is morally right for Katy to have an abortion. The hedonic calculus would conclude this because society may think that 16 is too young to have a baby which would provide them with more overall happiness of the girl having an abortion. However, having the abortion may cause unhappiness for her family but forgiveness is in the heart of
Christians, if they understand that having an abortion will create a very high amount of happiness for Katy and many people of society may agree with her having an abortion it outweighs the unhappiness of the parents. If Katy was to follow through with her abortion it would provide her more happiness in the meanwhile and future as having a baby may affect multiple aspects of her life. As you can see the hedonic calculus works towards bringing happiness to the greatest amount of people therefore supporting Bentham’s beliefs and following Act Utilitarianism.